Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Pilgrims and Monks

Katie Ivancic with her host sister Miriam
The 28 students of Spring 2019 have been here just shy of one month. In the process of adjusting to life in Uganda, they have been challenged and rewarded by diving headfirst into new relationships with people that will shape their time here and continue to shape them far beyond this semester. UCU roommates, students of the Honor's College, host families, practicum supervisors, and many others eagerly invite students to enter the space of their daily lives. 

A framework that we continuously use here at USP is one of a pilgrimage. We borrow language from two theologians, William Cavanaugh and Emmanuel Katongole, as we encourage students to view themselves as pilgrims on a journey in search of significance and authenticity; seeking to move toward a center in communion with others and with God. The pilgrim looks inward to discover that home is often not stationary, but a road that runs straight through the heart. The pilgrim recognizes that it is in communing with others made in the image of God, that the character of God is revealed. Another key aspect of this pilgrimage journey is that a pilgrim must be dependent on their monks; the individuals that welcome them in as strangers, freely offering unwavering love and support. 
Sophie Olmstead with her family
Rev. Frefrick and Mirica Kisitu

For our 28 students, as they continue their search for significance, many will be looking to their new host families to be their monks. Our USP host families are an exhibit of Ugandan hospitality when they generously receive their new sons and daughters for the next four months. These families welcome our students into one the most vulnerable spaces of their lives, their homes. Our students depend on their families to provide for them and to teach them about the significance of culture.

The following is a poem we share with students before they meet some of the most pivotal monks in their journeys.

Tourist or Pilgrim?
"I stand at the edge of myself and wonder
Where is home? Oh! Where is the place
Where beauty will last? When will I be safe? And where?
My tourist heart is wearing me out. I am so tired of seeking

For treasures that tarnish. How much longer, Lord?Oh! Which is the way home?
My luggage is heavy. It is weighing me down
I am hungry for the Holy Ground of home.
Then suddenly, overpowering me with the truth,
A voice within me gently says:‘There is a power in you, a truth in youThat has not yet been tapped.
You are blinded with a blindness that is deep,
For you have not loved the pilgrim in you yet
There is a road that runs straight through your heart.
Walk on it.’
To be a pilgrim means to be on the move, slowly,
To notice your luggage becoming lighter,
To seek for treasures that do not rust
To be comfortable with your heart’s questions,
To be moving toward the Holy Ground of home with empty hands and bare feet.
And yet, you cannot reach that home until you have loved the pilgrim in you.
One must be comfortable as a pilgrim before one’s feet can touch the homeland.
Do you want to go home?
There’s a road that runs straight through your heart
Walk on it."
~Macrina Wiederkehr

For the 28 students of spring 2019, they have began walking the road that runs through their heart, leading them home. In the great communion created by their new families, our students often begin to find their center; discovering that God is living within the monk and the spaces that they create. 

Annie Green with her host mom Monica Wanzala 

Tuesday, 15 January 2019


Friends and Families of USP,

Happy New Year! We hope that your time has been marked with rest and presence with those you love, and we are very happy to announce that our new Spring 2019 cohort has been on the ground in Uganda a few weeks now and are finding their "sea legs" quickly!

Today, I'd like to take a minute to talk about thresholds. These moments of time where we find ourselves briefly within two important seasons, not yet fully exited from previous one but also entering another, and where we find ourselves frozen for a moment. Not fully in either place. Armed with the perspective and time to try to answer the questions of where we've come from and where we're going. The threshold metaphor is part of the language that we use to talk about the experience of USP. During debrief, our director begins one of our processing sessions with the following quote:

"A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensified toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. 
At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, sadness, hope. This is one reason why such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds: to take your time, to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there, to listen inwards with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. 
The time has come to cross."
                     // John O'Donohue

In our fast-paced American culture, it can be all too easy to wrap up important seasons in our lives and jump into the next one with all our strength immediately. We forcibly shorten these thresholds and ignore them into nonexistence, hopeful that if we just never stop moving, we'll never have to face the emotions that come from the loss of these closing chapters. But embracing thresholds and taking the time to just *be* is a huge lesson that many of us learn during our time in Uganda. Taking time to be fully aware of our lives as they happen to us is a new experience for many of us as we come to Uganda, and an incredibly important piece of the fabric of USP.

There are a few thresholds that are built in to our time at USP, where we carve out time between the end of one thing and the beginning of something else in order to take inventory of our hearts and center ourselves before moving forward. We have a few days set aside after we return from Rwanda and Rural Homestays in order to rest and reflect, and the culmination of our entire semester is almost five days in Entebbe answering the questions of "what just happened to me?" and "what now?" and enjoying the love and community of a group of people who came as strangers but are leaving as family.

And finally, we are experiencing a new sort of threshold in USP right now: the threshold of firsts. Students are spending their first nights with their host families, and going to their practicums for the first time, and are making their first forays into Mukono town for markets, great food, and swimming with host siblings. All these things that feel so unfamiliar and overwhelming right now, but students are engaging all the same.

I think we can all feel it, when we're on the edge of something big. This threshold we're in right now is one of new beginnings, and we're so very excited to see what happens next.

This is Louise, signing off for the year. Thanks for reading :)
Stay tuned for some new developments from PA Jessica Mount.